June 22nd – Hondo Canyon to Topanga Lookout

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Nine hikers arrived on a cool overcast morning at the trailhead located 0.4 mile northwest of “downtown” Topanga along Old Topanga Canyon Road where the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area’s “Backbone Trail” crosses the road. As we began our hike up the steep north-facing mountain slope we traversed our only wet stream crossing and soon passed through meadows filled with dry yellow grasses and dotted with oak trees and interesting rock formations.

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Next we reached a wonderful pink gorge on the right (west) side of the trail where a small waterfall is sometimes visible (but not today). As we continued upward through chaparral, there were glimpses of the pink-colored sedimentary rock formations/cliffs (the Sespe Formation) that form the west side of the canyon. We then entered a dense forest comprised mostly of oak and bay laurel trees; the trail was also lined with ferns, moss-covered rocks, and lots of poison oak as well as a variety of blooming plants (see below).

After negotiating a long series of heavily shaded switchbacks through the forest we neared Saddle Peak Road. However, we headed west on the Fossil Ridge Trail that paralleled/overlooked the road; it was also adorned with a variety of blooming plants, particularly phacelia. Upon reaching the old Topanga Tower Motorway, we left the Backbone Trail and headed north to the end of the road where there was once a fire lookout tower. After a lunch/rest break we retraced our steps and returned home having completed a 10.7-mile hike with 2,350’ of elevation gain/loss on a very pleasant day for hiking.

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June 15th – Switzer Falls and Bear Canyon

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Seven hikers carpooled to the trailhead at the Switzer Picnic Area, about 10 miles up Highway 2 from its intersection with the 210 Freeway. Switzer Camp was founded in 1884 by a Pasadena carpinter named Perry Switzer. The camp was an arroyo rock village, and one of many privately owned attractions that dotted the front range of the San Gabriel mountains, hosted outdoor enthusiasts who hiked from one lodge to the next. All that remains of Switzer Camp today, are the chapel arches and the overgrown foundation of the lodge.

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It was a cool morning, as we hiked down the Gabrieleno Trail following the Arroyo Seco stream bed, dividing the beautiful riparian canyon. We already had several stream crossings under our belt, as we climbed up out of the canyon and into the bright sunshine, before stopping to rest at the intersection of the Gabrieleno Trail and Bear Canyon Trail. Next, we headed southwest, into the well-shaded Bear Canyon, where we came a junction that gave us access to Switzer Falls. We took a short spur up a box canyon that terminated at the Falls. The Falls were flowing well this year, since the drought ended this past winter. After enjoying the beauty of this 50′ waterfall with its well-established plunge-pool, we began the gradual uphill climb to Bear Canyon Trail Camp. Stream crossings were never-ending, but finally we reached the end of the trail. Bear Canyon Camp is pleasant destination and the perfect place to rest and east lunch. We returned the way we came, traversing the stream 31 times in total, after hiking 10 miles, with 1,600′ of total elevations gain and loss. We enjoyed a good many wildflowers on the hike, including Humbolt Lilies, Speckled Clarkia, Indian Paintbrush, California Everlasting, Meadow Nemophila, Chinese Houses, Dudlia, Black Sage, Tree Poppy, Caterpillar Phacelia, Virgin’s Bower, Golden Yarrow, Yerba Santa, and a few others we have yet to identify. Everyone agreed that this was a very special hike.

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June 8th – Matilija Falls

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Eight hikers met at the trailhead at the west end of Matilija Road a few miles northwest of Ojai on a pleasant late-spring morning. The hike began along a road that headed west through the private Matilija Canyon Ranch Wildlife Refuge where we were greeted by a dazzling display of large Matilija poppies as we passed by a cage housing sheep and goats.

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The stream crossing at the 0.4-mile mark required care to avoid slipping into the creek which had flowing water whereas our visit in 2016 was easy since there was no water in the creek at that point then. After a little over a mile our route crossed through a lovely private ranch via a dirt road that hikers are restricted to. At about the 2-mile mark our route lost any resemblance to our hike in 2016 (and previous years) [see below]. The heavy foliage we encountered along the stream in previous visits had almost entirely disappeared. We located a well-defined, if somewhat overgrown, single-track trail that we followed as it climbed steadily up the mountain on the west side of the stream’s canyon. We were treated to an overwhelming display of blooming plants, especially Deerweed, as well as Bindweed, Caterpillar Phacelia, Golden Yarrow, Purple, Black and White Sage, Chaparral Yucca, Humboldt Lily, Poodle Dog Bush, Golden Eardrops, Large-Flowered Phacilia, Matilija Poppies, and Scarlet Monkey Flower.

After a while the trail began to descend to the creek (the last part of the trail down required special attention as it was very narrow and partially eroded in places). Upon reaching the wide boulder-strewn canyon bottom and agreeing that our hike now bore no resemblance (other than exhibiting mountains, a canyon, and a stream) to our prior visits. The canyon bottom was devoid of foliage and as we looked upstream we saw a series of small cascades in the stream and lots of rocks all around. After inspecting the area we spotted a pink ribbon (one of a series of such markers) across the stream, so we carefully crossed to the other side where there was an obvious trail heading upstream. After taking a rest/snack break we headed upstream along the trail. However, the trail soon began to deteriorate and eventually disappeared entirely, leaving us on a shelf above the stream. Spotting a solitary hiker heading downstream in the canyon bottom, we asked her if she had reached the waterfall. She said that she had but she was equipped with water shoes. Although we were happy to learn that we were headed in the right direction (despite its foreign-to-us look), we decided to turn around at this point since we were not equipped to hike in the water. We returned the way we came, all agreeing that although we didn’t make it to the waterfall it was still a beautiful outing. We returned home having completed an 8.5-mile hike with about 1,250’ of elevation gain/loss.

THE JUNE, 2016 VERSION OF THE TRIP REPORT – – –

“At about the 2-mile mark the dirt road became a narrow trail as it wound through a shady poison-oak-paradise stretch. In fact, since the route closely followed Matilija Creek the rest of the way, poison oak was frequently present [long pants and a long-sleeved shirt are recommended]. After a while we stopped by the flowing stream at a particularly lovely spot and took a short break (and some photos). Continuing upstream the maintained trail ended and we began to scramble and boulder hop, frequently finding short open stretches of trail. Occasionally we were required to cross the stream in order to continue. We were rewarded for our effort by beautiful scenery including the flowing creek, several large pools of water, vast expanses of sedimentary rock layers, an extensive riparian oak woodland, towering canyon walls, and many wildflowers including Matilija poppies.”

OUR CONCLUSION AS TO THE VAST DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE 2016 AND THE 2019 HIKES: Wildfire and subsequent flooding in the Matilija Creek Canyon since 2016 sculpted a barren rock environment in the canyon bottom and also led to a change in trail direction as a result, i.e., the steep climb up the mountain on the west side of the canyon, followed by the steep descent back into the canyon.

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June 1st – Mt. Lukens

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Ten hikers carpooled to the Haines Canyon Trail trailhead at the upper (east) end of Haines Canyon Avenue in Tujunga on a slightly chilly, cloudy/foggy late spring morning to tackle hiking steadily uphill to the summit of Mt. Lukens, the highest peak (5,078’) in the city of Los Angeles.

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As our hike began we passed by a debris dam and catch basin near the mouth of Haines Canyon (it contained some water). Soon we reached a fork in the trail; we avoided the left fork and continued northeast, climbing steadily (though not steeply) while taking in the canyon views including a variety of blooming plants. Eventually we reached a section where the trail took a left turn that was somewhat confusing due to bicyclists (some of whom were present) who have developed a downhill series of “jumps” on a lengthy separate “bandit” course parallel to the trail. The trail became a shady single-track path as it made its way eastward out of Haines Canyon to a junction with a somewhat eroded and overgrown dirt road (rising from the Deukmejian Wilderness Park to the south) which we followed mostly northeast via a series of long switchbacks as it led us to the summit of Mt Lukens. The sun “came out” as we approached the top and quickly warmed the morning. The summit hosts several tall communication towers and it provides wide-ranging views (including lots of mountains) in several directions, though heavy fog reduced our visibility on this day, particularly to the south. There are several routes to the summit, including Stone Canyon Trail which rises steeply from its trailhead in Big Tujunga Canyon immediately to the north. After taking a leisurely rest/lunch break “on top of the world,” we returned to our vehicles the way we came thus completing an 11-mile up-and-back hike with just over 3,000’ of elevation gain/loss.

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